Be More Responsive – Step #1 – Set Expectations

Although you cannot control the number of inbound outreaches to you, you can set expectations regarding how your colleagues will hear back from you. Expectations are the boundaries you create which reflect your unique style, calendar and workload. Here are some ways to set expectations/boundaries with your colleagues:

– Establish, communicate, and honor a 24-hour response rule where you say in your emails and voicemails that you will respond to your colleagues within 24 hours of your receipt of their outreach. It is generally understood that this means Monday if the message is left from Friday to Sunday.

– Schedule time on your calendar specifically to respond to voicemails and emails.

– Utilize the “out-of-office” functionality embedded in your email system when you know you will be unable to access email or voicemail (i.e., you are attending a three-day offsite meeting or you are on vacation), and ensure you include when you will be returning to the office, when you will be able to start responding to outreaches you have received, and the name, phone number and email address of an individual your colleagues can reach during your absence

– Update your voicemail to let your colleagues know that you are out of the office, when you will be returning, and who they can contact in your absence if they have an urgent need.

How Can I Be More Responsive?

You may feel that you should not respond to colleagues until you have the answer to their questions or requests. You may assume that others know you are working on their problem and you don’t feel a need to keep them updated. You may rationalize that you are so busy, you don’t have time to get back to anyone other than your boss.

While these are reasonable perspectives, days could go by before you have an answer (especially if you are dependent on others for information) and colleagues who originally reached out to you may feel forgotten. Without a response or an update, your colleagues are unsure if you received their email or if you are working on their request at all, allowing frustration to grow and progress to stall.

Harry Ebbighausen, a former President at Iron Mountain Incorporated has mastered the ability to be highly responsive. Despite his voluminous workload and hectic travel schedule supporting a $3 billion enterprise, Harry possesses a reputation throughout Iron Mountain and the records management industry as an person who “gets back to everyone,” whether the individual reaching out to him is a fellow executive or a truck driver at a distant facility.

Harry’s reasons for being responsive are clear. “It’s a matter of respect,” says Harry. “If a colleague or an employee is taking the time to reach out to you, there must be a good reason. You demonstrate respect to others by responding to their outreach as quickly as you can.” At the same time, “if you don’t respond to others quickly, they will either not reach out to you again or fill-in their own answer to their problem. Sometimes, it may not be a good answer.”

Have You Been Labeled Unresponsive?

Responsiveness is the degree in which you get back to colleagues and foster progress.Your colleagues also do not have a lot of time. Their world is as frenetic as yours. When your colleagues do reach you, they need your help in order to keep moving forward.

Have you been labeled as unresponsive? Do your colleagues use the phrases “black hole,” “bottomless pit” or “it’s like pulling teeth” when describing you? Your colleagues are reaching out to you for a reason. Most of the time, your colleagues are contacting you to obtain something from you (i.e., information, an opinion) in order to make progress on whatever is important to them. Some colleagues may be reaching out just to say “hello,” yet even those colleagues are looking for something – opportunities to build a professional relationship with you. If you have been labeled as a black hole, you are injuring your visibility in two ways –

– Your unresponsiveness impacts negatively on the progress of others.
– Your unresponsiveness impacts the desire for others to reach out to you in the future.

These behaviors are visibility decelerators – your unresponsiveness creates frustration and damages relationships. You become an obstructionist of individual and organizational progress.

How Responsive Are You?

In the Raise Your Visibility model, the third visibility accelerator is responsiveness. Responsiveness is defined as is the degree in which you get back to colleagues and foster progress. It is the other side of the revolving door for the second visibility accelerator – accessibility.

Do any of the following characteristics seem familiar to you when you think about being responsive to others?

– You never return phone calls or respond to your email.

– You have to be caught “live” in your office or on the phone in order for your colleague to connect with you.

– You don’t recognize (and in some cases, don’t care) that you are unresponsive.

– When you do get back to your colleagues, you mask your behavior with self-effacing humor or by overusing happy face emoticons? For example “I totally forgot to get back to you on this! Another topic for me and my therapist …! Anyway, still working on it…”

Being responsive is not about always getting back to everyone instantly. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “You can get back to some of your colleagues all of the time, and all of your colleagues some of the time, but you cannot get back to all of your colleagues all of the time.”

Accessibility + Benefit = Value

It is not enough that you are highly accessible to your colleagues; your colleagues must also benefit from the interaction. After all, what is the point of being highly accessible if the interaction does not benefit your colleagues? Why would your colleagues reach out to you in the first place if not to obtain a benefit from the interaction? Take a look at the types of accessibility illustrated in the following list to help you visualize the relationship between access (your colleagues ability to get to you) and benefit (the benefit you create for your colleagues).

Low Access + Low Benefit. Due to your behavior, you are at risk of being inaccessible to colleagues in your in your organization and industry. In many ways, you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy – you are not accessible to colleagues and, at that rare moment that they gain access to you, your colleagues do not benefit from the interaction.

Low Access + High Benefit. While your colleagues benefit from their interactions with you, their ability to gain access to you is inconsistent. You are at risk of creating frustration on the part of your colleagues, which may lead to them go elsewhere. It is common for colleagues to say to one another “She’s a great resource if you can get to her.”

High Access + Low Benefit. You have created a strong environment of access for your colleagues. However, your colleagues are not benefiting from their interactions with you, eroding their interest to come see you. You are at risk of being viewed as irrelevant.

High Access + High Benefit. You are demonstrating the right behavior for your colleagues to access you and feel that the interaction is benefiting them. Your high level of being accessible is positively contributing to your visibility in your organization and industry.

Beating Accessibility Hurdle #3

Accessibility is a Raise Your Visibility Indicator and I define accessibility as the degree in which colleagues can reach you and benefit from the interaction.

What is accessibility hurdle #3?

If I have an office, my door is likely closed.

What can you do?

– Leave your office door open all the time and assess the impact. Start small – do this for a day, and then two days, and then a week.

– Consider doing some of your work away from your office so that the door is open more. Schedule time to use a conference room to get some of your work done. This way, at least your door is not closed.

– Schedule times when you need to close your door so that you colleagues know when they can see you. For example, conduct your “closed door” work between 10:00am and noon or 3:00pm and 5:00pm.

Beating Accessibility Hurdle #2

Accessibility is a Raise Your Visibility Indicator and I define accessibility as the degree in which colleagues can reach you and benefit from the interaction.

What is accessibility hurdle #2?

I don’t feel I help my colleagues as much as I would like when I meet with them.

What can you do?

– Confirm the goals of an upcoming meeting with a colleague and the outcomes your colleague needs in order to make progress.

– Pause and confirm with your colleague that the conversation is helping her make progress. If the conversation is not helping her make progress, ask her to restate their goals and outcomes so you can get the conversation back on track.

– Ask your colleague if the conversation was helpful as the conversation comes to a close. If your colleague does not respond in a positive way, ask how else you can help him make progress.

Beating Accessibility Hurdle #1

What is Accessibility Hurdle #1?

I am generally at my desk more than I am away from my desk.

What can you do?

– Find colleagues who seem to have figured it out. Talk with them about how they spend their time and brainstorm on ways that you can get out of your office or workstation more.

– Schedule time each workday or on a frequently recurring basis to get out of your office or workstation.

– Look for opportunities to do certain work elsewhere in your office area or building. All of your work does not have to be done in your office or workstation.

– Meet a colleague in her office or a common area (i.e., employee cafeteria) when she asks to meet with you.

Are You Inaccessible?

Being accessible is not just having an “open door policy” or ensuring your team knows your cellphone number. Accessibility is about creating an atmosphere where your colleagues can reach you – even interrupt you – and leave the interaction with a positive feeling. Accessibility is the degree in which colleagues can reach you and benefit from the interaction.

Are you accessible? Perhaps you possess low self-awareness of how your behaviors in your organization diminish outreach by others. You can be heard decrying “No one ever tells me anything!” and “How come I am always the last to hear about these things?” When you think about it, you may discover that you are less accessible than you think you are. Do any of the following characteristics seem familiar to you when you think about being accessible to others?

– Your office door is always closed.
– You rush frantically between conference calls or meetings with little time to talk to others.
– You get easily annoyed when a colleague reaches out to you (especially if the outreach feels like an interruption).
– Your back faces the entrance to your office or workstation.
– Your interactions with your colleagues never seem to benefit them.
– No one comes to you for help.

How Do You Handle Unexpected Interruptions?

Accessibility does not mean you are available 24/7/365. We all have limits on the degree in which we can be reached by co-workers, and you should feel comfortable enforcing and expecting others to honor these limits.

Can you be so successful modeling accessible behavior that too many colleagues want a moment of your time and you find that you have no time for yourself? Is this an example of “too much of a good thing”? We all know that sunlight is a good thing, yet too much sunlight can cause skin cancer. We know that the human body needs sugar to survive, and yet too much sugar may cause diabetes. If you are wildly successful at being accessible, you may find your calendar and productivity under attack.

Your goal is to make sure you are being accessible to serve the needs of others, not to become a servant to accessibility. Individuals successful at being accessible also demonstrate some of the following behaviors:

– For advance requests to see you, schedule times that work within your calendar.

– For unexpected knocks on your office doors, ask if the question/topic is urgent or not. If not urgent, say something like the following:

“I’m interested in speaking with you, yet I have a report that I am working on that is due in about an hour. Can we schedule a time for us to chat? Let’s quickly look at our calendars and schedule something.”

– For topics that are urgent for which you do not have time to address, ensure that your unexpected visitor knows that you have only a moment of time. Focus your comments on next steps and possibly identifying another individual who can act on your behalf.

“I’m interested in speaking with you, yet I have a report that I am working on that is due in about an hour. Can you give me a one-minute recap of the situation so I can at least help you identify your next step?”

– For times when you need to focus on work without interruption, find an available conference room, a vacant office, or the empty employee cafeteria. Seek other ways to get your work done before you stay in your office and close your door.